tv Washington Journal Edwin Melendez Discusses Federal Aid for Puerto Rico CSPAN September 30, 2017 1:42am-2:21am EDT
the storm surge. they are looking at the data after irma to see how good their numbers are. thank you everybody. >> more now on federal aid for puerto rico. this is just over 30 minutes. >> we are joined by edwin melendez, who is from the center for puerto rico studies. he is the director of that organization. thank you for joining us this morning on washington journal. >> my pleasure. >> we sit here this morning, some eight or nine days after
the impact of hurricane maria in puerto rico. obviously you are in touch with people on the island. what are your biggest concerns as we speak this morning? >> the response been a little slow out of the gates, so to speak. we should have declared the whole island in emergency situation with no electricity, half the households have running water, and you can see the images of people leaving the island in shifts, trying to get to the airport. it is a desperate situation. the army should have been sent a long time ago, and i hope it is not too late to prevent a deepening of this entire crisis. i just hope that we react much faster, we send the troops down there to take control of distribution. supply seems to be there, it is just a question of logistics. i think the only entity that is capable of taking control of that situation is really the army, the armed forces.
host: those efforts ramping up quickly in the last couple of days in particular. the headline in the "wall street journal" front page -- "puerto rico aid trickles in." they deployed a three-star general to puerto rico to oversee efforts, and the department of homeland security waive the jones act to allow non-us ships to carry cargo from the u.s. mainland to puerto rico, in addition to the transportation department saying it was making $40 million immediately available to pay for road and bridge repairs. what can you tell us about the status of the infrastructure in puerto rico going into maria, and obviously there has been a big impact in the storm itself. >> if you look at the electrical system, the grid was antiquated. it is based on old burners of oil.
the carbon plant which started a , it is more than 40 years old. it needs organization. right now, all of the information and power lines are not operating, and you really need to restore all of that before you can start energy regeneration. so they need to restore electricity quickly. slowly, it will calm back online. the reality is that puerto rico is a very diverse geography. the people in the interior, all of the towns away from san juan, especially, are going to be a long, long haul before they get electricity. they do not have electricity, they do not have water because
it comes from pumps. there is a complicated sort of situation in puerto rico with infrastructure. for example, there was no satellite system in place for communications. fema did not have that, the local government did not have that, the army has that. so hopefully they are bringing temporary cell towers to restore communications. some people are coming back online with those, but this is almost 10 days after. it has been a long way for these measures to be in place. we now have a class of refugees, of american citizens that are fleeing the island, and the question is are they going to come back? host: we welcome your phone calls at (202) 748-8000 for democrats.
(202) 748-8001 for republican. for independents and others, (202) 748-8002. and if you have ties to the island of puerto rico, either you are living here or have relatives in puerto rico, we would love to hear from you on a special line. (202) 748-8003. edwin melendez, how much more difficult is it for puerto rico in this situation not, for example, to have a stronger representative presence in the u.s. congress? mr. melendez: as you know, that has been an issue for ever, the fact that we only have someone that can speak but not vote on most matters. having said that, we have four or five puerto ricans in congress. they play a tremendous leadership role.
throughout the financial crisis, and now disaster. and we have someone who is concentrating on very important states. new york is the national capital of media, and florida is a state that a lot of pay attention to. so that has distribution, and then in connecticut, illinois, pennsylvania -- all of those are important places where the puerto rican elective officials are working in local and state legislatures and the like. they are very influential and can move the needle when it needs to be done, but long-term we have to rethink the whole relationship with puerto rico in the united states. host: we have a call waiting from florida. good morning. caller: good morning. i have a couple questions. first of all, my heart goes out to all of the puerto rican
citizens. it is absolutely horrible to watch all of this. having said that, i keep wondering what their politicians are doing? what are they doing with all the money? i am sure they get taxes, they get tourism, all kind of money -- how is it that they have not spent in their infrastructure, building code, and such things for the protection, especially because they are out in the ocean, sort of isolated and in the path of most hurricanes that come in. mr. melendez: that is very relevant and an important question, because i think the situation in puerto rico prior to the hurricane is a shared responsibility. it is american responsibility , the kiss order rico -- because
and -- ano has been incorporated territory for over 100 years now, since 1998. so the local political leadership, at some point they showed it to be incompetent, inadequate, not on top of what needs to be done. for example, the last two decades, there is no consensus of how to move forward with the economy and everything else. the corruption, so when the law that congress enacted to control finances and to allow for bankruptcy, there was a sentiment in congress that the political elite was incapable of really bringing the country back into a modern society with progress, as it was in prior decades. modernizing the infrastructure at the time, but 40 years later,
here we are with a completely inadequate system. so i think reforms both in puerto rico and in the united states are necessary to move forward. host: we have a caller from silver spring, maryland. tell us about your ties to puerto rico. caller: hi, good morning. my mother's family is from puerto rico. they are in the south of the country, the southeast. so this has been very difficult to watch from afar. it is very troubling to not be able to speak to my family that is there, or you get thirdhand accounts of somebody saw somebody at a shelter. for me, i find all of this, especially in contrast to the response to harvey, really troubling. i cannot help but see that the leadership and generally speaking i think, the congress seems to have no regard for the life of puerto ricans who are u.s. citizens.
for me, you see how they responded to texas, which was completely adequate, and there is a lot of devastation there. but i cannot help but feel that the administration has looked at puerto rico and seen it is politically or economically speaking, it does not contribute much to the country and therefore does not deserve the same sort of response. host: we appreciate that. we will hear from mr. melendez, and good luck with your family. go ahead. mr. melendez: unfortunately, many of us have been unable to talk to our loved ones in puerto rico for a long time. i just got a text from my son, who said his cell phone was back online. so things will start improving a little bit. but the reality is that the response was inadequate. there is no way to not think that. if you look at katrina, those who are in charge of that, he had 250 other countries to his
to hishelicopters disposition after the bush administration realized that this was an emergency situation. there is nowhere near that number of emergency workers there, and i saw an interview last night with the helicopter pilot, saying that you know, their heart is broken every time by the houses, because people are waving at them and they have to let them know that they will be back the next day and the next day with supplies. water, generators, insulin, so it is very heartbreaking to see what is happening, and the very slow response. the day after, we knew what 20 inches of water meant in terms of flooding and in terms of the destruction. it is still not too late, people are still waiting for help, but it needs to be redoubled.
host: trump will visit with puerto rico and the virgin islands next tuesday, tweeting about the aftermath and reaction. recovering from the storm this morning, tweeting the administration and the government, every time they have spoken, they have delivered. is, puerto rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. big decisions will have to be made about the costs of its rebuilding. indiana on independent line. i would like to know about the buildings. i would like to know what damage was done. do the building codes of the island need to meet certain standards? do they need to be updated?
absolutely. after sandy many houses were damaged on the northeast coast. same thing happened in other areas where the codes were enforced. i don't understand why the rules are not up to code. it is all based on private initiatives as opposed to a considered effort by government. we have an opportunity to rebuild the electrical get -- electrical grid. it is an opportunity to rebuild puerto rico the right way. use more solar energy. have construction codes
enforced. storm,ow, before the puerto rico has 20% vacancies in housing, and people shelters. it is an opportunity to think about housing programs that will use the capacity we have in the good areas, and try to move situations where they will be at risk in the future. we will be able to move puerto rico from the storm areas. occasionally we get a storm right to the middle. occasionally we get one that is a category5, damaging everything. lebanon, ohio, republican line. who has first responder
responsibility import rico for disasters? puerto rico is a territory of the united states. have been american citizens since 1917. we depend on the federal government for the same things that all states depend on the federal government for. you have the federal responsibility, but also the local responsibility. who is responsible for having an alternative communication systems for these type of situations? regulations that provide the framework for that to happen. but the local level is ultimately responsible for enforcing codes, and having a emergency services. moving forward, you have to be a
partnership. however, it was clear that the teams that fema sent, and the reinforcements, these people are ,orking hard, but the control command, and logistics with the local government was broken. now we are coming to the realization that logistics are critical. host: do you have another quick question? if you look at florida or texas, people in the united states are generous. when citizens are hurting, we want to help. but we want to help people who are prepared to help themselves. they know they are in a hurricane zone. we will come and help, but we
don't want to hear l.a. aching -aching.p come -- belly this puerto rico have their own national guard? guest: it is under command of the governor. to respond tored this situation? i think the point is well taken. the local authorities needed to be more prepared. they needed to have better emergency services. but i will go back to the same point, it is a shared responsibility. if that partnership is not working on. lenders, this is an extreme situation, i doubt any federal authority what prevented the kind of damage with that
documentation of rain. we realized what it was too late. two days after we knew what it was. host: brian in northeastern washington state, independent line. is,er: my first question what could he proposed to the military to help the puerto rican military members that are serving, but have no way to connect to their family in puerto rico. that is something that can be addressed immediately. were able to talk to our family in afghanistan via skype. people who are hustling on the ships and in the air should be
their efforts are being focused toward that family member. at least to reassure them that their family is ok. what is puerto rico going to do in their battle against the zika virus? will the federal government continue to help them to prepare and be proactive? third, in regards to people that willto leave us refugees, they be able to have medical attention if they are infected zika virus?
we have the issues of transmission by people and by mosquitoes. guest: puerto ricans have been serving in the military for a long time. there are facilities, hospitals, and bases were veterans can go. because the army has satellite communications, this is a great suggestion. military service runs in families. it is a great idea. virus is part of a
greater concern, health epidemics and so forth. we are right now at a critical moment. you have dead animals floating around in water. a lot of the sewage systems have been affected. the risk for epidemics is really high. the public health intervention has to be aggressive, thorough, and immediate. host: the third issue was on refugees. have puerto ricans who are refugees in a domestic cents.
-- domestic sense. boarding cruise ships to flee puerto rico. the airport has been packed for days with thousands of people waiting to get on a plane. we're going to see more of that. preparing to create a respondingt will be , a huge spike in immigration. we're going to need shelter, housing, so we are trying to do for thosee can services to receive people.
a lot of work to come. maria raced away from the u.s. coast, giving it a rest from tropical storms in more than a month. john in virginia, independent line. caller: good morning. cnn, fox news, and a guy who they had was saying this thing in puerto rico is larger than new orleans. mad and wondering why the military had dropped in to help.
cnn had the lady of san juan, and she was begging for help. they asked the guy about containers on the dock. said 50 containers have televisions in them. why is puerto rico being shortchanged? it is nothing like trina. guest: that is the question a lot of people are asking. the political leadership is going full speed trying to raise the word. lining, is any silver the american public is coming to
realize puerto ricans are american citizens. we need to do more for our fellow americans down there. the response has been slow. that is the question people are asking, what is going on? host: quick question from this puerto rico send revenues to the u.s.? yes, puerto rico is part of the safety net system. we pay social security. we pay medicare. we have veterans services because we have a large number of puerto ricans serving. rico is a state of the
united states, yet it is an autonomous region. the tension between puerto rico and united states, in times like how, it calls into question do we move forward with a better that serves both parties in a better capacity? the debate is statehood versus autonomy, and it has not been resolved yet. it will have to be addressed. in the last two or three years, we keep an i on what is happening in puerto rico. an eye on what is
happening in puerto rico. to see us as a whole, not just they are there and we are here. one of the things we have done, we created a roundtable for analysis to look at the fiscal crisis. we are also adding new initiatives called build puerto rico. we have another section on health. we have another section on volunteers. .e are trying to be a catalyst
departing from the community here in the united states. more than 30,000 people try to access our site and we were not prepared for that. -- we opened another server for the overflow. our c-span listeners, we have a couple more calls. from tallahassee on the independent line. caller: good morning. if these people
are coming up here, we have our own problems. tampa and isin still underwater. i don't know how we will handle this influx. two trees fell on my house. why is puerto rico $73 billion in debt? why don't they pay federal taxes? maybe the difference in the is that theyent weren't prepared and did not do their job properly.
guest: the question of the debt, there are two sides to it. there is the wall street side, and local authorities. when the recession started in a few years prior to the financial crisis in 2008, that was related to the elimination of the tax credit corporations were given. when the recession started, instead of taking preventive measures, the local government decided to carry a deficit under the assumption the debt was going to be repaid. evident by 2012 at borrowing was not the way out of the situation. the incapacity of the local
leadership to come to terms with that reality, and implement measures and policies that were going to bring puerto rico back to recovery were not implemented. you cannot say that congress is not responsible. congress imposed the jones act. we did not have the ability, what would you do, close the electoral system? when you break down the debt, puerto rico got 50% rim response whereas other states got 80% reimbursements.
it is the united states and local leadership. we need reform in both sides. south carolina, hello. you're on the air. ricowasn't puerto brought in as the 51st state of the united states? what is the status of efforts to make puerto rico estate? guest: for the record, the question of whether puerto ricof efforts to make puerto rico estate? will be the next state or will --an independent country when the first puerto ricans , you have latin
american countries in terms of -- rightand culture now a majority of puerto ricans are in the united states. you have this fusion of cultures. how do you reconcile the fact you have a nation, and how you bring that nation into another nation? that is the dilemma we need to resolve. receive thisady to group of people that will not look like any other state even though they have a large ethnic native population. is a situation puerto rico and the united states need to
face head-on. our guest has been edwin melendez. thank you so much for being with us. my pleasure. thank you for the invitation. " washington journal," with news that impacts you. tomorrow, the state of race relations in the u.s.. a look at the cost of illegal immigration on taxpayers with the federation for american reform. a recent article about the and safety concerns surrounding the closing. join the discussion.
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